By Sharon S. Magee
Linda Ronstadt photo by Robert Blakeman , 1989, Elektra Entertainment .
Linda Ronstadt is coming home, and in more ways than one. She will appear in concert at the Tucson Convention Center on September 27th with Aaron Neville, her singing partner on four-cuts of her new hit album, “Cry Like Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind.”
Besides this physical homecoming, the critics are hailing this new album as her musical homecoming, a return to what she does best, pop rock.
“I’ve always wanted to make a contemporary record with a big orchestra,” Linda confides in a recent interview, “My voice works well with strings and. horns, and when you add woodwinds into the bargain, it’s an opportunity for shades of emotion you don’t get with a simpler configuration.”
After forays into swing (“What’s New,” “Lush Life,” and “For Sentimental Reasons” with the late arranger-conductor Nelson Riddle), Country (“Trio,” with long-time buddies, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris), mariachi (“Canciones de Mi Padre” with master arranger, Ruben Fuentes), and light opera (Joseph Papp’s productions of “La Boheme” and “Pirate of Penzance”), this return seems to be welcomed by critics and fans alike. As Ralph Novak succinctly states in his review in the October 23, 1989 People Magazine, “It never seems like a retreat, it seems instead like a homecoming,” Linda remarked.
With rave reviews swirling around her, it should indeed be a triumph homecoming for this “girl singer” (her own words), born in Tucson in 1946 to Gilbert and Ruthmary Ronstadt.
Growing up in the age of rock ‘n’ roll with brother Mike and Pete (now Tucson’s Chief of Police) and sister Suzi, she was surrounded by music.
But, rather than rock ‘n’ roll, it was Country, and to an even greater extent, the music of her father’s Mexican heritage. Lola Beltran, the queen of mariachi became her idol. She recalls with fondness singing Mexican songs with her father and being allowed to stay up late into the night listening to the sweet melodies from the frequent informal family songfests. In fact, as late as 1967 where she was well on her way to rock stardom, her Mexican roots tugged and she proclaimed that she aspired to nothing less than being the world’s greatest Mexican singer.
As she recalled, in her teen years, rock ‘n’ roll still did not figure into her plans. Determined to be a folksinger in the vein of Joan Baez or Mary Travers, at age 14, she began to sing folk music on Tucson TV with the New Union Ramblers trio comprised of Linda and siblings Pete and Suzi. It wasn’t until she heard the Byrds and realized their harmonies were simply bluegrass put to a “groovy beat” that she decided to try rock ‘n’ roll.
At 18, Linda left Tucson at the urging of a friend, Bob Kimmel, to try her luck in Los Angeles. The rest is history. Hit has followed upon hit.
Linda Ronstadt and Daniel Valdez . Photo by Robert Blakeman, 1987. Asylum Records.
That family is important to her may explain why she has experimented with different singing styles. While some critics blame her seemingly dartboard choice of style on ego or immaturity, a lot of it apparently goes back to family.
Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville publicity photo courtesy of Elektra Entertainment . 1990.
Whatever the reason, it must be assumed that it took a lot of courage, or maybe self-confidence, for a successful rock singer to go against the advice of her advisers and strike out on these musical side trips. Or, maybe it was just Linda wanting to do something she truly enjoyed.
Case in point, her “Trio” album with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. While these three friends have from time to time performed back up on each others albums, their desire to do an album together took a long time a-birthin,’ but was a labor of love. Linda says this is the one album she can listen to without being embarrassed or bothered as she is when listening to her other albums.
In a recent interview she said about “Trio,” “I just love it. I’m real proud of it. It’s the one I can listen to without getting real uncomfortable, even a little bit, you know? I just go, ‘Wow, I’m on that record,’ and I’m so glad.”
Prior to cutting “Cry Like a Rainstorm,” Linda remembers, “I called Craig Fuller of Little Feat ‘cos he had a better idea of how to phrase the song. He really gave me a whole other way to sing it. I had also learned a lot about-rhythm and phrasing from singing Mexican music, because, the rhythmic ideas are so radically different from those of American pop music. I like the falsetto singing. Singing with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris on the “Trio” album made it easier for me to breakdown and analyze Aaron’s (Neville) voice techniques and to sing with him.”
For those of us who remember the “pre-Riddle“ Ronstadt, we can only hope that when she performs in Tucson, that in addition to the wonderful soaring songs, like “Cry Like a Rainstorm,” “Howl Like The Wind,” we’ll get to hear some of the “oldies-but-goodies” such as her emotion packed renditions of “Blue Bayou” and “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.” Welcome home. Linda.
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